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Yin-yang of Washington Post on Amy Coney Barrett: Wait. Pope Francis embraces charismatics?

Yin-yang of Washington Post on Amy Coney Barrett: Wait. Pope Francis embraces charismatics?
Screen Shot 2020-10-12 at 9.49.24 AM.pngScreen Shot 2020-10-12 at 9.49.24 AM.png

It would appear that the goal on the cultural and religious left is to find a way to link Judge Amy Coney Barrett to all of that strange charismatic Christian stuff like healing and speaking on tongues while avoiding anti-dogma language that would raise warning flags for Sunday-morning-Mass Catholics. She may as well be a fundamentalist Protestant!

Oh, this will also require tip-toeing around the awkward fact that millions of charismatic Christians are found in Latino and Black pews — Catholic and Protestant.

Will this play a role in the hearings that are getting underway as I type this? We will see.

In the branch of the Democratic Party known as Acela Zone journalism, the key to the news coverage has continued to be a steady drumbeat of references to the word “handmaid,” which in cable-television land calls to mind all kinds of horrible fundamentalist terrors, starting with sexual slaves in red capes and white bonnets.

It’s hard to know what to write about the People of Praise-phobia angle of this story right now, since your GetReligionistas have been on it for some time now. See my podcast and post here: “Why is the ‘handmaid’ image so important in Amy Coney Barrett coverage?” Also, Julia Duin’s deep dive here into 40 years of history linked to the People of Praise and charismatic Christian communities of this kind. There there is Clemente Lisi on three big questions that reporters need to face linked to Barrett’s faith.

There are too many elite news stories on the handmaid angle to parse them all, so let’s focus on that recent Washington Post feature from a team led by the scribe who brought you the hagiography of Christine Blasey Ford during the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh.

For starters, this would be a good time to remind readers that reporters rarely play any role in the writing of the headlines atop their work. The headline on a piece such as this one primarily tells you the angle that editors thought would launch it into social-media circles among the newsroom’s true believers. Thus we have: “Amy Coney Barrett served as a ‘handmaid’ in Christian group People of Praise.”

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The name comes from the Bible, not from Margaret Atwood. It was never remotely controversial until that novel. Read Luke 1 for context, King James Version.

\u2014 David French (@DavidAFrench) October 7, 2020

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Here is the Big Idea that is right up top, in a story that uses the term “handmaid” 11 times — early and often.

Barretta federal appellate judge, has disclosed serving on the board of a network of private Christian schools affiliated with the group. The organization, however, has declined to confirm that she is a member. In recent years, it removed from its website editions of a People of Praise magazine — first those that included her name and photograph and then all archives of the magazine itself.

Barrett has had an active role in the organization, as have her parents, according to documents and interviews that help fill out a picture of her involvement with a group that keeps its teachings and gatherings private.

A 2010 People of Praise directory states that she held the title of “handmaid,” a leadership position for women in the community, according to a directory excerpt obtained by The Washington Post.

Also, while in law school, Barrett lived at the South Bend home of People of Praise’s influential co-founder Kevin Ranaghan and his wife, Dorothy, who together helped establish the group’s male-dominated hierarchy and view of gender roles. The group was one of many to grow out of the charismatic Christian movement, which sought a more intense and communal religious experience by embracing such practices as shared living, faith healing and speaking in tongues.

This group’s hierarchy and views on marriage? It’s unique and dangerous doctrine? Someone, please, get the Post copy-desk team a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The story is framed as a look at secrets provided from former members and traces of material about People of Praise life that have bleed into digital places where they can be traced. What information makes the cut and is included in this piece?

It’s important, of course, that supporters of the group are not anxious to talk to the Post, while fprmer members are ready and willing. That’s the mechanism that drives the story — along with an acidic hostility to gender language that is normal in traditional forms of the major branches of Christianity around the world — Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Pentecostal, traditional Anglican and evangelical.

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In their nearly bottomless ignorance of religion, reporters seem unable to grasp that the word \u201Chandmaid\u201D comes not from Margaret Atwood but from the Bible and that Christians use the term not to subjugate women but to invoke Mary the Mother of God.

\u2014 Alexandra DeSanctis (@xan_desanctis) October 7, 2020

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Best part of the piece are the comments from @JohnFea1 . We need more of his sober judgments on the facts, rather than the inferences the article seems to want readers to make.

\u2014 Randall E. King (@randalleking) October 7, 2020

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At one point there is a church historian who gets to speak on the record.

Yes, there is a nod in the following to the facts about traditional religious language on sex, marriage and gender. The issue is whether this passage can balance the fact that the whole piece is baptized in language that pushes Beltway fear buttons.

In other words, this story is not really interested in debates,

John Fea, a prominent historian of U.S. religion at Messiah University, said Barrett would be the first Supreme Court justice to come from a charismatic Christian background.

Fea said he believes it is fair for senators to ask Barrett how she views the blending of her small, insular community and a job judging for a nation. But he said People of Praise’s belief in distinct gender roles is similar to what is lived and preached across much of America today, in faiths as different as Catholicism, the Southern Baptist Convention, and orthodox Islam and Judaism.

He said that believing men should be the spiritual leaders of the family does not mean that women cannot be professionally ambitious. “Everything about Amy Coney Barrett’s career contradicts the idea that women in People of Praise can’t have careers or be successful,” he said.

Ever since Amy Coney Barrett arrived on the Beltway radar, I have been stressing that charismatic Catholics, decades ago, were quite controversial. Then church authorities did lots of investigating. There were reforms and lots of dialogue.

Somewhere, there are church authorities who know quite a bit about that process. There may even be documents (perhaps in places that reporters cannot go).

Anyway, here is all that Post readers learn about that topic in this report:

At the time the group was founded, many denominations — including the Catholic Church — looked warily at groups that adopted different practices and created insular, separate communities. That wariness has largely subsided.

Spot the key word? That would be “largely.”

That might be the most important single word in the whole report. You see, the charismatics are (a) growing, (b) doctrinally conservative as a rule and (c) linked to a Latino community that will help shape the future of American Catholicism.

Do you think Catholics on the doctrinal and, thus, cultural-political left like charismatic Catholics? Do you think that fortresses of Catholic progressives — think D.C. and New York City — have been more than willing to serve as sources for background and contacts linked to the Barrett coverage?

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Thanks to the \u2066@washingtonpost\u2069\u2019s thorough reporting, we can see that there is nothing much to say about People of Praise except that the members appear to help one another live more virtuous Christian lives.

\u2014 Matt Franck (@MatthewJFranck) October 7, 2020

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That’s enough ink on the Post story that launched a thousand tweets.

Critics, however, need to know that this wasn’t the only People of Praise story that the Post team produced in the last week or so. It’s crucial to read the following story by religion-beat veteran (and former GetReligion contributor) Sarah Pulliam Bailey. The headline: “Amy Coney Barrett’s People of Praise ties highlight charismatic Christianity.

This is a People of Praise story framed in information about contemporary Catholic life and trends, as opposed to terms defined by cable-television melodramas.

For example, I did not know — until reading this story — that Barrett’s father is both a crucial tie to People of Praise past and an ordained permanent Catholic deacon. In other words, his background and beliefs are well known to the church authorities who ordained him. He has been a deacon, it appears, for 38 years.

Here are two crucial sections of this report. Read this and do the math:

Barrett, who is Catholic, is part of a charismatic lay community called People of Praise, which has fewer than 2,000 members and began in South Bend, Ind., in 1971. Globally, there are more than 500 million Pentecostals and charismatic Christians, including 195 million charismatic Catholics, making up about 16 percent of Catholics worldwide, according to the World Christian Database, which is run by Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts.

What sets charismatic Christians apart from other kinds of Christians is that they often adopt practices described in the New Testament of the Bible, including speaking in tongues, the use of prophecy and faith healing. Charismatic Catholics might also adopt more modern types of praise and worship band music with enthusiastic singing, clapping and outstretched arms.

Now, here is the passage that I think really needed to be added into the earlier “Handmaid” litany produced by Post investigators.

Note that this material does not come from Catholic conservatives:

Two of Christianity’s most visible global leaders also identify closely with charismatic movements: Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual leader to millions of Anglicans worldwide; and Pope Francis, who follows a long line of popes who have encouraged charismatic renewal.

“Francis is probably the first charismatic pope,” said Austen Ivereigh, who has written extensively on Francis. “He’s hard to pin down, but he’s a pope who has identified in his own spirituality with the charismatic renewal.”

A year after he was elected, Francis once knelt and was blessed by a gathering of thousands of Catholic charismatics, all speaking in tongues.

“Francis may not pray in tongues, but no pope has ever identified as closely with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, nor been so keen to move it to front and center in the church,” Ivereigh wrote in America magazine.

You know: Pope Francis — the pope from heavily charismatic Latin America (Pew Research Center report here) who is a hero of right-wing Catholics? Not.

Read it all. I wonder: Were either of these stories features on A1 in the dead-tree-pulp edition of the newspaper? Which one?

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After the Washington Post’s attempt to harm Amy Coney Barrett by depicting the intentional religious community to which her family belongs as misogynistic and sinister, let’s hear no more claims that \"no one’s attacking Judge Barrett’s religion.\" Such claims are now embarrassing.

\u2014 Robert P. George (@McCormickProf) October 7, 2020

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MAIN IMAGE: One of the many images drifting through Twitter-verse and social media, of course.

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